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‘I just can’t believe it.’ Bill Fitzgerald says goodbye to ‘work soul mate’ Stephanie Rochon

Posted at 2:00 PM, Jun 18, 2015

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Fitzgerald co-anchored the WTVR CBS 6 News with Stephanie Rochon for six years. During the 6 p.m. newscast on June 3, 2015, he informed viewers that Stephanie had passed away after a battle with cancer.

RICHMOND, Va. -- I’m reading an announcement to our loyal viewers. I’m seeing TV words in the show run-down, including one that says “Stephanie OBIT PKG.” Those words make no sense. They can’t be true.

Am I really putting my thoughts together about a treasured friend and co-worker suddenly gone? Who has been such a vital part of my life for six years?

I stare at the desk next to mine, covered in flowers. I just can’t believe it.

Vitality defined Steph, who was constantly in motion. During the pre-newscast hours she was always editing, always refining scripts, always organizing her next Buddy Check report. Always checking with producers, reporters for an update. Be on your toes, people!

Two weeks later now, it just seems impossible that we carry on, that a new, normal day could omit any reference to Stephanie.

I just don’t want it to.

For nearly six years – and I’m including the time she was sick - it really felt like we were in perfect sync, with the same idea of what our work was about. I usually knew what she was thinking, how she would react, and she was very adept at reading me, and when I might need a gentle, uh, nudge. She had a number of looks that used to make me laugh, because I could lock on to her mood, her emotion.

Our desks face each other, separated by a 6-inch barrier, a mini-wall, whatever you call the border that defines the modern cubicle. We could have private conferences without leaving our chairs. I ask myself: did I appreciate being able to see her so close, every day?

I will try to welcome whomever is given that spot next. But I wonder how long it will take for that change to become “normal?” Will it ever?

I know all of this is part of the grieving process.

Steph was kind of like a work wife, or even more, like a work soul mate.

She was equally animated in private, always generous, always ready to listen when out for a drink or to drop a note or an unexpected treat at your desk. She was ‘in the moment’ like few people I know.

We’ve talked a lot lately about her laugh, that one-of-kind cackle, her full-throated roar. Raymond does a great imitation, which itself always made Steph laugh harder. It was such a happy thing, something that would reassure you, truly make you believe. How upset could you be after hearing that?

But she had other laughs, including a throaty ha-ha-ha. That meant she was tickled, and the show could go on!

She was a natural, understated newsroom leader. I don’t think I fully appreciated that until these long months without her at work. Now, I wonder if my notes are adequate, what questions we need to ask to cover every angle. And more than a few times, I’ve wondered what she would have said, would have done…

And while I had months to tell her how much I loved her, what she meant to me, and did so, I ask myself: why didn’t I tell her before? After an eye-opening Buddy Check report? Out for dinner? At a baby shower? Walking with her at the Christmas parade? At the Healthy Lifestyle Expo? Just doing our daily prep, together?

Steph was the first person I met in Richmond, beyond the interview process. Technically, I guess I “auditioned” with her – running through a mock newscast when somehow, no one was around -- and I never felt so good about a job prospect in my life. Her energy, her sparkle, her on-top-of-it ness was so clear to me, I just knew I wanted the job, because I wanted to be paired with her.

That never changed.

And she was passionate: when I look at all the lives she touched through her work promoting breast health awareness, I am awestruck. She was determined that we should all know how important a regular mammogram can be and especially, how we must insure that those of few means should have access.

And what a cruel, cruel irony that she should die within months of her mentor and friend, the innovative breast cancer pioneer and philanthropist Dr. Ellen Shaw de Paredes. Two loving, lovely giants in Central Virginia, gone.

I find it hard to accept.

We grew closer over the past year. It was difficult to see her gradually diminished, but it was always natural to be with her. She never felt sorry for herself, never took her focus from her two beautiful boys and Jeff.

She handled death with the same grace she displayed on air.

And as much as she could, she planned for her family’s future.

Now we have to plan ours without her and it breaks my heart.

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